School Choice: Doing It the Right Way Makes a Difference

November 1, 2003

Executive Summary

Although “choice” is often discussed as something novel in public education, a variety of options have long existed in American schools. From magnet, alternative, and charter schools through homeschooling and recent judicial acceptance of regulated vouchers, today’s public school system provides a growing number of educational options for families. The discussion about “choice” today is as much about “how” and “how much” as it is about “whether.”

Role and Work of the Commission

The National Working Commission on Choice in K-12 Education was established to explore how choice works and to examine how communities interested in the potential benefits of new school options could obtain them while avoiding choice’s potential damage. The Commission was not created as an advocate for choice or to make judgments about whether school choice is desirable or undesirable.

In going about its work, the Commission reviewed the possible effects of choice in light of the core value of public education, that all children should be thoroughly educated, so that they may pursue their own dreams and contribute to a democratic, egalitarian, and prosperous American society. Drawing from that value, the Commission explored choice in terms of four key issues: benefits to children whose parents choose new schools; benefits to children whose families do not exercise choice; effects on the national commitment to equal opportunity and school desegregation; and advancement of social cohesion and common democratic values.